House Votes Down Amendment Allowing Non-religious Military Chaplains, but 150 Democrats Voted for It

Earlier this week, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) put forth an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow for non-religious military chaplains:

The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the appointment, as officers in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces, of persons who are certified or ordained by non-theistic organizations and institutions, such as humanist, ethical culturalist, or atheist.

Republicans (and some Democrats) in the House Armed Services Committee voted against the amendment 43-18 so it didn’t leave the committee.

That didn’t mean the end of the legislation, though. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) tried to get the amendment through without the support of the Committee:

Rep. Jared Polis

What my amendment would simply do is allow chaplains who are certified or ordained, secular humanists and ethical culturalists or atheists, to also be able to support the brave men and women who serve in our military,” Polis said.

Polis said his amendment is needed because the only other counseling option available to nonreligious service members is to see a mental health expert.

“When someone sees a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exist when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It also doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”

Unfortunately, the full House shot this amendment down earlier this afternoon by a vote of 274-150. Every Republican and 44 Democrats voted against it.

Still, I suppose we can celebrate that 150 Democrats supported the amendment to allow non-religious chaplains. They refused to get bogged down by the “chaplain” terminology and kept the best interests of foxhole atheists in their minds.

The Secular Coalition for America found reason to be optimistic despite the failed amendment, too:

While we are extremely disappointed the amendments failed, we were heartened to see the show of support today’s amendment received from a full third of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The SCA has a way for you to thank those members of Congress who voted the right way, so please send them a note of support.

***Update***: Here is video of Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) speaking out against the amendment because only religious people are allowed to become chaplains:

Huelskamp can’t see past a dictionary. This is why the word “chaplain” should just be changed to something more encompassing. There’s nothing a chaplain does that a Humanist can’t do in an analogous way. Hold weekly services? Check. Perform burial services? Check. Pray to a fictional god? Nope. But the job of the chaplain is not to covert, but to comfort and counsel. Atheists in the military deserve that, just like everybody else.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • SirReal

    Huelskamp: “… ministering to men and women of faith and those who CLAIM to have no faith.” What a d-bag… He’s of the “every is Christian, just some won’t acknowledge it” camp. They are worse then the “I hate atheists” because they don’t even acknowledge non-belief at all.

    • TCC

      Actually, I think it’s of the “atheists have faith, too” variety.

      • viaten

        He might even be of the “atheist have to have even more faith” variety.

    • DougI

      He’s the district next to mine, I wonder how his re-election will go. Considering the guy works hard to create enemies. He voted against wind energy despite have a couple of wind mill factories in his district.

      Who am I kidding, it’s Kansas and he has a ‘R’ by his name. He’ll win.

  • WallofSleep

    “This is why the word “chaplain” should just be changed to something more encompassing”

    Yeah, I’d prefer something like “counselor”. I’m not really keen on the phrase “atheist chaplain”.

  • Cattleya1

    You know why THEY voted this down… because there is not one of each kind of chaplain assigned to each group of soldiers. Nosiree! Can’t have any of the faithful talking to any atheists. Certainly, you cannot have them seen to be officially recognized. Nope! It is unacceptable. If any atheists have a crisis of conscience, are just plain scared, or just want a compatible person to talk to – then they will just have to go talk to someone who believes they belong in Hell. Yet, our armed services are perfectly happy to recruit atheists to go die for their country. It is just sorry!

    • Alan Bloor

      These people probably don’t believe there are atheists willing to die for their country. As an atheist who wants to join up I’ve come across many people who think that “there are no atheists in foxholes” is a factual statement and they can’t understand why I get so insulted when they say it.

  • A3Kr0n

    Yay for Democrats, but both Democrats and Republicans are still just different arms of the same beast.

  • DougI

    Here’s the link to see how your Rep voted:
    http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll238.xml

    • Christopher Borum

      Thanks, but living in MN-6 I can predict how my Rep voted. She’s been wrong about virtually everything so far, why change now?

  • WingedBeast

    “Spiritual Counsilor” “Ethical Counsilor”
    For certain definitions of the word “spiritual”.

  • rustygh

    This right here. These numbers. It is truly the root of all evil in these united states of America! We must break and outlaw all religions! This shows once again how embedded religion is in this country. It is bad people!

  • pezza

    Why couldn’t they have just tried to pass the bill by calling them ‘counselors’. Were the ‘nays’ voting against people of no religion counseling troops, or were they just confused/concerned about the terminology? A bit of a waste, to not have it pass, just because the proposers wanted them to be called ‘chaplains’.


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